The Duke’s Weekend Review

So it’s goodbye to Katie Walsh, as she announced her retirement at Punchestown on Friday, as Willie Mullins secured a twelfth Irish trainer title.

Faugheen has been big news too this week, as he landed the big staying contest. It was great to see ‘The Machine’ back to winning form.

I’m hopeful that Apple’s Jade, who I am a great admirer of, can also make it to the winners’ enclosure with a victory on Saturday. She was defeated by Benie Des Dieux at Cheltenham, but assuming she returns to her best, then she can reverse the form.

In the UK this weekend, the best action is likely to be at Sandown. In the Oaksey Chase, Top Notch will go head-to-head with Double Shuffle. The pair look significantly better than others in the race, so which one to choose? Top Notch has had a few issues, including skipping the Cheltenham Festival, but he won a novice Grade 1 at Sandown last year and based on his run at Ascot in November, Double Shuffle has quite a bit to find with him.

The Celebration Chase is not really much of a betting contest, as Altior is considerably the best horse in the race. He’s an absolute superstar and it would take something very unusual for him to lose. The ground conditions should suit Special Tiara, so perhaps he can follow him home.

The big race is the bet365 Gold Cup. An outsider who might run better than his price is Theatre Guide. He finished third in the race last year and a return to form could see him in the frame again, however he has run very poorly this year. Sugar Baron ran well in the London National at the track in December and the ground was too soft for him at Cheltenham, so he could be involved. Missed Approach put in a career best effort to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham Festival, but he’s shot up 8lbs in the weights and that can’t help in a race like this.

Blaklion tops the handicap and he was very unlucky to be brought down at the very first fence in the Grand National. He is a class act on his day and will have no trouble with the trip. However, the weight is an issue. Tidal Bay won the race off top weight in 2012, but that is the exception that proves the rule – it’s incredibly hard to win this contest carrying a big amount of lead in the saddle.

It’s an open race, but there are two that interest me from a punting perspective for different reasons. Benbens is Blaklion’s stablemate and finished just three-quarters of a length behind the winner in last year’s running of this race. He finished fourth, such was the rather epic finish in 2017. He then won the London National at the track in December, and while there is a swing in the weights with the runner-up Sugar Baron, I suspect that Nigel Twiston-Davies has had an eye on this race. He’s 50/1 with most bookies and that is overpriced for a course and distance winner who will enjoy the ground conditions.

Step Back is unexposed and the other bet for me. He started life in point-to-points and did pretty well, before patiently progressing through hurdles and on to novice chases. He had a sight of Sandown in February, which I am sure was entirely deliberate, with the trainer having an eye on this race. He then put in a great effort at Fakenham, winning very impressively and there is a good chance he will be able to handle a better race. I think he could be very well-handicapped and I’ll have a dabble on this unexposed chaser. Enjoy the racing.

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